1. You can't always depend on arriving at the right time. Bear Grylls knows that.
In 1998, when at age 23 he became the then-youngest Briton to climb Mt. Everest, his approach to the summit coincided with the arrival of a monsoon.
Read our interview with Bear Grylls on his new autobiography, 'Mud, Sweat, and Tears.'
Now the U.S. publication of his autobiography Mud, Sweat, and Tears—already a bestseller across the rest of the English-speaking world—comes on the heels of the cancellation of the TV show that made him famous: Discovery Channel's Man Vs. Wild.
Grylls and the network both chalk the cancellation up to "ongoing contract disputes."
But scuttlebutt says that the sticking point was that Grylls refused to participate in a couple proposed Discovery Channel projects.
The nature of these projects is as yet unknown. But if true, this occasion might mark the first time that Grylls has ever said "no" to a crazy idea.
2. Grylls has, after all, eaten live bugs and worms for the TV cameras; circumnavigated the British Isles on a jet ski; flown a paraglider above the Himalayas; and even rowed a bathtub down the Thames—naked.
Many of his stunts have been undertaken for charity. And that, I think, tells you something about his character.
It's that same go-for-broke generosity that makes Grylls such an appealing narrator.
3. The book retains the characteristic voice, so familiar to viewers of Man Vs. Wild—that urgent, emphatic quality heard in Grylls' narration, somehow entrancing in its staccato rhythms.
Grylls accomplishes this through short, forceful paragraphs.
Some as short as this.
And the well-turned sentence fragment gets a workout.
4. Likewise, the chapters are generally quite brief.
Very, in fact.
5. As laid out on the page, the prose calls irresistibly to mind the speaking voice of Grylls himself. There's an audiobook available of Mud, Sweat, and Tears, but the concept seems slightly redundant.
Simply reading the print edition, you can't help but hear Grylls' idiosyncratic voice.
Inside your head.
The effect, I must confess, is infectious.
And it feels good.
6. That's because Grylls knows how to tell a story. That's how this memoir plays out.
It's not particularly concerned with any grand arc of Grylls' life—he seems to have paid little attention to that. No, it's more about the succession of anecdotes that constitutes a life.
The approach has few drawbacks, particularly when Grylls tries to yoke the events of his life to the context of the larger world.
In one particular howler, he is describing his school days at Eton College, where the Crown Prince of Nepal was a classmate.
Both boys were members of the school's karate club. Grylls notes light-heartedly that one had to be careful when sparring with the Prince, on account of him being considered a holy personage, quite literally a deity in his home country. He then relates that he once accidentally landed the Prince a kick in the unmentionables, laying the poor fellow out flat.
It's a fond, jolly reminiscence.
In the very next paragraph, Grylls notes, almost in passing, that years later his old classmate the Crown Prince suffered a psychotic break and machine-gunned his entire family. "It was the Kingdom of Nepal's darkest hour," he notes solemnly.
The paragraph after that, we're on to a funny personal anecdote about an unauthorized climbing trip, before the reader has time to say, "What the—?"
7. Most of the time, though, the loose, episodic structure jibes well with the conversational tone. And it feels true to Grylls' character, as his life seems to have been a series of lurches and stumbles from opportunity to opportunity, with very little planning.
Grylls talks about his youth, about being born into a family of relative wealth and prestige. His privileged background, one suspects, had a role in his propensity for seeking out danger. For seeking out opportunities to prove himself.
His father, whom he idolized, was his first partner in adventure. A former commando turned career politician, Michael Grylls still regarded himself a man of action and was a tireless planner of ill-advised father-son excursions.
After graduating from Eton, Grylls found himself half-heartedly attending university. He had mediocre marks, few prospects and very little idea of what he wanted to make of himself—only a yearning "to achieve something special and lasting in my life," as he says.
That yearning led him to Britain's elite military special forces unit, the SAS, whose hellish, months-long selection and training process he describes in excruciating detail.
Worse yet, he had to go through the whole thing twice. Having failed out on his first attempt, Grylls showed sufficient promise to be invited to try out again—provided that he start again from square one.
8. That story, more than any other, defines Grylls’ appeal and mystique. He plays down his innate physical capabilities. He is full of praise for the athletic ability of his companions on his various adventures, while painting himself as relentlessly average.
What has set him apart, he maintains, is sheer bloody-mindedness. The will to carry a task through to completion.
That's inspiring as well as humbling. If Grylls can carry out his feats of derring-do with a little preparation, a little luck and a lot of determination, what might we ourselves be able to do?
Grylls delivers that message of hope—loud and clear—and in a humble, unpretentious, easy-going way.
And that's a message that always arrives at just the right time.
Caveat lector: This review was prepared using an uncorrected proof provided by the publisher. The final product may vary slightly in content or formatting (but I hope not).
In 2006, Jack Feerick became the oldest member of his entire immediate family to complete an expedition to Cleveland, despite breaking his big toe in the hotel bathroom. He returned to tell that tale, and many others, as Critic-at-Large for Popdose.